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Clip-On Sensor Turns iPad Into 3D Scanner

Clip-On Sensor Turns iPad Into 3D Scanner
By Barry Levine

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Occipital's Structure Sensor is also designed for playing augmented reality games that utilize 3D sensing. The clip-on sensor that turns the Apple iPad into a 3D scanner comes with a software development kit for add-on functions or embedding the technology into applications.
 


Capture a 3D model of a room, or create 3D images of objects, just by walking around the space or the objects with a tablet equipped with a clip-on sensor. That's the idea behind the first 3D sensor specifically designed for mobile devices.

In addition to capturing 3D models, the Structure Sensor, from a startup called Occipital, is also designed for playing augmented reality games that utilize 3D sensing. The product is now attracting attention as the company tries to raise funds on the crowdsourcing Web site, Kickstarter. As of Tuesday, the firm had raised more than $110,000 on the site, exceeding its goal of $100,000 -- and it still has 44 days to go.

The sensor instantly captures the 3D models in file formats that can be used for CAD or for 3D printers. It is specifically designed for Apple's fourth-generation iPad, although the company says it will also work with other, unspecified mobile devices. Other iPad models, the company said, will be supported with upcoming model-specific brackets.

Scan, Print Your Own

Or, if you didn't want to wait for other model brackets, it would be possible to scan the iPad 4 bracket and, using 3D software, modify it for the desired device and then print your own on a 3D printer. Any iOS device that uses the Lightning connector can stream data from the sensor, including the iPad mini, iPhone 5, 5c or 5s. The sensor connects to the devices via USB.

"The goal," said Occipital on Kickstarter, "was to make a device that enabled incredible 3D sensing applications, was easy to use, had great battery life, was compact, and looked like beautiful, precision hardware."

The range of the sensor starts at 40 cm and extends to over 3.5 meters, which the company said means that it can "easily capture anything from a teddy bear to an entire room." Its battery provides up to four hours of active use and more than 1,000 hours in standby mode.

Virtual Ball Playing, Pets

The sensor's chassis is created out of a single piece of high-grade aluminum, which also serves as a thermal core to keep the precision optics inside the sensor at the required temperature. Two infrared LEDs are utilized to create a uniform light for image capture, which means that the sensor can also capture 3D images at night and provide an iPad or other supported mobile devices with night vision.

The sensor comes with a software development kit for add-on functions or embedding the technology into applications. Occipital offers the example of an augmented reality haunted house app the could show infrared-detected but otherwise invisible ghosts on the tablet as users walk around a completely dark room. Other augmented reality applications, the company said, could include virtual balls interacting with real objects, or a virtual pet that plays fetch inside the physical world.

The Structure Sensor continues a line of development begun with such products as Microsoft's Kinect 3D depth sensor for gesture-based control of the Xbox videogame. Kinect is being modified for other applications in science, technology, education, medicine and the arts, including the ability to use it as a rudimentary 3D sensor. Kinect, however, requires power from an outlet, and is cumbersome when used as a mobile object or room sensor.
 

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